Debates between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle during the 2019 Parliament

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (Eleventh sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Wednesday 22nd September 2021

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Amendment 79 would make the director for freedom of speech and academic freedom responsible for providing an annual update to higher education providers and student unions on the number and nature of freedom of speech complaints that the Office for Students has dealt with, as well as examples of unacceptable infringements of freedom of speech.

It is important that the OfS is accountable for the operation of the complaints scheme. That is why clause 4 provides that the Secretary of State may require it to include a special report in its annual report on matters relating to freedom of speech and academic freedom. Such a report must be laid before Parliament so that Parliament and the sector may scrutinise it. Equally, paragraph 12 of proposed new schedule 6A to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 provides that the Secretary of State may request that the OfS conduct a review of the complaints scheme or its operation and report on the results.

As for what the OfS believes constitutes unacceptable infringements of freedom of speech, it will issue guidance to providers and student unions to help them to comply with their duties under the Bill. In particular, it will consult on and issue changes to the regulatory framework, under section 75 of the 2017 Act, which states that the OFS

“must include guidance for the purpose of helping to determine whether or not behaviour complies with the general ongoing registration conditions.”

That guidance may specify

“descriptions of behaviour which the OfS considers compliant with, or not compliant with, a general ongoing registration condition”

as well as

“factors which the OfS will take into account in determining whether or not behaviour is compliant”.

Similar guidance will be included for student unions.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister imagine that inappropriate apologies will now not be allowed under that guidance?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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I do not want to get into the individual example, because I am not fully familiar with the details. My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Congleton said that she was concerned that that event would not happen in future because of that apology. I will look into the details.

Clause 4 also provides that the OfS may identify good practice relating to the promotion of freedom of speech and academic freedom and give advice about that to providers. The Government expect the OfS to work with the sector and a range of relevant stakeholders to ensure that there is clear and relevant advice to help higher education providers and student unions feel confident in fulfilling their duties. I therefore hope that Members will be reassured that the Bill ensures transparency in relation to freedom of speech functions at the OfS, and that guidance will be given to the sector to help it to understand how it comply with its duties. However, as I have previously committed, I will take away the issue of reporting and consider what more we can do on it.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (Twelfth sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Wednesday 22nd September 2021

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I totally agree. However, an example might be if a lecturer wishes to run a course about Islamic radicalisation. They might say to the university, “I need some extra safeguards put around this course because of the students it might attract and the topics we might be dealing with. It is important to teach this course for academic rigour, it is important to understand these issues, but it might attract people to join the course for undue reasons.” That is not to stop them from doing it; it is just to make sure there is a safeguarding approach. All of that kind of stuff needs to be in the guidelines, not here. I hope that that is what the Minister will say. I think a safeguarding, prior notification approach is what is needed here.

I did want to touch on the interesting contradiction brought up by this amendment. Prevent—although there is debate about its understanding and its use, I do not think that is relevant here—is an important programme to try to safeguard and stop the radicalisation of people in our country. However, it applies to the institutions, and the institutions cascade to bodies that work within them, such as student unions. It does not apply directly to student unions in terms of the duty. This does, which is an example of where this Bill overreaches.

If the Bill is going to have a deeper, more intrusive reach than the Prevent programme, we need either to revisit the Prevent duty or to say that this Bill is a bit of an overreach, that it is not necessary for it to be regulating as deep down as student unions and student clubs. This amendment helps to highlight that. That is an argument I have made many times in this Committee, so I will not go any further on that point.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Under amendment 70, higher education providers would not have to comply with certain academic decisions such as those concerning delivery of curriculum or research in relation to the Prevent duty. The Government are clear that the Prevent duty should be used not to suppress freedom of speech but to require providers, when exercising their functions, to have due regard for the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. There is no prescription from Government or the Office for Students on what actions providers should take once they have that due regard.

Specific guidance has been published by the Home Office on how higher education providers should comply with the Prevent duty. The legislation imposing the Prevent duty in higher education already specifically requires that providers have particular regard to the duty to ensure freedom of speech and the importance of academic freedom. That means that providers already have special provisions on the application of the Prevent duty to enable them to take proper account of academic freedom, so there is no need for this amendment to go further.

The Government have commissioned an independent review of the Prevent duty and are looking at how effective the statutory the Prevent duty is, to make recommendations for the future. I hope that reassures the Committee.

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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Earlier, I was too eager to get to new clause 2. The new clause would require providers to take steps to ensure that student unions have sufficient resources to carry out their duties under proposed new sections A4 and A5 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.

There is universal agreement about the importance of freedom of speech in university life. We saw that in the evidence sessions. There is also broad consensus about the important role that student unions play in protecting freedom of speech on campuses. Many student unions do fantastic work in that area, including having their own codes of practice, which often involve collaborative relationships with the provider. We fully expect that to continue, and for providers and student unions to work together, hand in hand, in relation to freedom of speech. That may include, where appropriate, a provider taking steps to ensure its student union is adequately resourced to carry out its duties. It may also involve the sharing of good practice, or a provider assisting the student union with the development of its own code of practice.

The measures are about protecting fundamental principles, not creating more red tape. There is huge diversity among student unions in the ways they are established and funded, reflecting the huge variety in the higher education sector as a whole and in further education. It is important that we reflect that variety in the Bill and do not seek to regulate the relationship between providers and student unions with a one-size-fits-all policy. Some student unions are heavily reliant on funding from their university; others may be more financially independent. Many have developed innovative portfolios as a way to generate income to contribute to a fulfilling university experience for students. The amendment does not reflect that variety or the differing, often complex arrangements that exist between providers and their student unions.

It is also important to note that the duties in proposed new sections A4 and A5 apply only to student unions of approved fee cap providers. Student unions of small, specialist providers that are not approved fee cap providers are not in scope of the Bill. In that way, we are ensuring that the Bill’s measures are not overly bureaucratic and follow the approach in the Education Act 1994, which sets out regulatory requirements relating to student unions at a number of institutions, including approved fee cap providers, but not other providers. In contrast, new clause 2 would place an additional, unnecessary regulatory requirement on providers in relation to student unions. In addition, we expect that there will be guidance from the Office for Students in due course that will help student unions to understand how to comply with their duties and assist them in drafting their code of practice.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the student union has nothing more than a petty cash box and no staff or sabbatical officers—there are some such student unions—how does the Minister suggest that they draft a professional code of conduct without the institution ensuring that they have the resources to do so? The new clause does not talk about cash; it could be secondment of staff.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for that very good point. While not wanting to predetermine the work of the new director, I fully anticipate that they will look at drawing up templates of such codes of practice to assist.

I trust that I have been able to reassure the Committee that we are taking appropriate and proportionate actions to ensure that student unions can address freedom of speech in a way that is not overly bureaucratic and that reflects the variety in their composition, size and financial arrangements.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (Ninth sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Monday 20th September 2021

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Michelle Donelan Portrait The Minister for Universities (Michelle Donelan)
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Clauses 1 and 2 strengthen freedom of speech duties on registered higher education providers and extend them to students unions at approved fee cap providers. Clause 3 plugs an identifiable and substantive gap in the current legislative framework by providing individuals with a route of redress for loss suffered as a result of a breach of these freedom of speech duties. Clause 3 therefore creates a new statutory tort. This enables civil proceedings to be brought against a higher education provider in respect of a breach of the new duties under section A1 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, or against a student union in respect of a breach of the section A4 duty.

Individuals can still complain in the first instance—for free—to their higher education provider or student union if they consider that there has been such a breach. They can subsequently complain for free to the new complaints scheme that will be operated by the Office for Students, and students will still be able to complain for free about their provider to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education. However, the statutory tort will also be available, although we are clear that it is intended to be a route of last resort.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If that is to be a last resort, as the Minister claims—I take her at her word on that, because she is an hon. Member—someone could as a first step go to the courts. Will she ensure that they can do that only if they have exhausted all the other opportunities?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comment. The problem is that if someone is a visiting speaker at a university, there would be no internal process that they could follow. We want to be as comprehensive as possible and allow this option to be available.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

I will make some progress and then give way.

As individuals will be able to seek redress for free via the OfS or the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, we expect individuals to make a complaint to the OfS or the OIA before relying on the tort.

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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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One thing we must be clear on is that the current system is not working. It is failing individuals who are having their freedom of speech breached, as we also heard from multiple sources in the evidence. At the heart of this Bill is unlocking a greater choice for individuals, whether that is going down the OIA route or the one-stop shop of the director who will be responsible for free speech and academic freedom. While it is true that at the moment not many cases that are brought forward are purely to do with freedom of speech, I argue that that is because we need this Bill in place and the new director in their position.

Given that individuals may not want to incur the legal costs and risks associated with bringing a claim before the courts, we do not expect this provision to give rise to many claims. It will operate more as a backstop for complainants, to cover claims by individuals who may feel they have no other recourse.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

I will, but we are going to have to let me do more than two lines at a time or we will never get through the Bill.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister. She talks about last resort, and in response to my last intervention she said that that could not be put in legislation because external speakers will need it. Is she therefore saying that external speakers have no form of redress apart from the tort—that they do not have access to the other forms of redress?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

To clarify my comments, I believed that the hon. Member was talking about going through internal processes before addressing the tort.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I meant all processes.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

There will be a variety of options available. Going to the director will be the free option and the first instance, but we cannot mandate that they have to have gone through the internal processes of an institution, because those will not be available to everybody that the Bill seeks to represent.

For example, this clause will provide a means of redress for individuals who do not have employment protections, such as visiting fellows—the point I was making earlier. Let us bear in mind that the purpose of the tort is to bolster the enforcement of the new freedom of speech duties on higher education providers and student unions, so that there are clear consequences for those who breach those duties.

The clause will ensure a clear route to individual redress for all who have suffered loss where freedom of speech duties have been breached, and will give those duties real teeth. This is therefore a vital part of the Bill, as part of a suite of measures to strengthen free speech in higher education.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (Tenth sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Monday 20th September 2021

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

I have reiterated many times, as Hansard will show, that it is not our intention to hit, penalise or alienate student unions. We are talking here about proportionate measures to protect freedom of speech. We will ensure that there is a consultation and that the voices of student unions are heard so that the regulations are right.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

I will give way, and then I really will finish.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister mentioned “proportionate measures”, so will she commit to ensuring that the regulations reflect the size of the institution or student union, and the ability of the student union to comply? I am worried because if, after consultation, there is a flat rate, that would be disproportionate.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

Before I finish, I will repeat what I said a moment ago. In making the regulations, careful consideration will be given to the status and financial position of student unions and their varying sizes. I hope that having that confirmation on the record will satisfy hon. Members.

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Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My understanding is that this relates not just to the student union’s activities be in the HE sector, but to the whole of the student union’s activities, even in the FE part of the institution, so student unions in that sector may face more administrative and regulatory burdens than their parent institutions. It is a bizarre situation. That is why this whole provision must be withdrawn, or voted against, or at least rephrased. The Minister must make sure that this is restricted to only that part of the activity that is HE, and that the regulation is light-touch, and she must make reference to how this relates to Charity Commission regulation. That does not apply for higher education institutions, because they are not regulated by the Charity Commission; they are exempted charities. Since 2010, student unions have not been exempted, so they have to register. They are regulated charities, and this measure is totally contradictory to the current regulation.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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It might be useful if I clarify for the hon. Member that, where student unions are registered charities, charity law will still apply to them. The OfS will only regulate student unions on freedom of speech matters.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course I understand that, but a complaint is not simple and will not be simple. For example, a charity that is seen to prejudice one part of speech, particularly political speech, would be in breach of charity regulations already, because we cannot privilege one part of speech or one part of activities as a charity because it is political speech. That is quite right, excepting the ruling of Baldry v. Feintuck, which says that political party associations of students can be supported within the student union if it is self-organised, because it is not the political activity it is supporting but the educational activity of students mocking up being in a political party, so they can hold mock elections and so on.

There is detailed case law and detailed legislation. The danger is that this Bill runs roughshod over that. People would have two places where they could complain. The complainant can go to the Charity Commission, where there is a basis of case law that is already very nuanced, and they can go to the OfS, where there is no case law and no such basis. Because we know the OfS will not necessarily be built with lawyers or making its decisions based on case law, the danger is that we will end up getting semi-contradictory decisions.

Baldry v. Feintuck says that student unions are free to support a Conservative club, for example, and to give money to that student Conservative club for its operations, as long as it offers the same amount of resources to the Labour club, the Lib Dem club or whatever different clubs might come along. There is a danger, however, that free speech regulation will say, “Actually, the regulations need to be different and will require the clubs to accept a broad range of views.” That is different from the basis on which those clubs have been set up.

I ask the Minister to reconsider ensuring that there is a direct reference to the Charity Commission and to the order of priorities in which someone would make a complaint to a student union. Currently, they could make a complaint to the institution, to the Charity Commission and the OfS.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

And the OIA. I would appreciate the Minister doing that, because it is a minefield. We heard as much from the representative of Universities UK, who said that they were deeply worried that this would confuse the matter and make things more difficult in terms of regulation.

Before I finish, I will touch on the finances. Universities effectively have the powers to raise finances through their recruitment of students and the research grants they get. Universities live and die, in that sense, in their corporate actions. Student unions, for the most part, raise no money themselves. Gone are the days of the student bar and the student club. If Conservative hon. Members think that student unions get money from those, I am afraid they are misguided. The vast majority of student unions rely solely on a grant from the university. They are solely dependent on the university, higher education institution or further education institution.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Listening to the debate, I am quite perplexed. On the one hand, the Opposition argue there is no problem with free speech, but on the other, they argue that once the Bill is introduced, virtually all student unions will be fined because they will be breaching it, and they will not be afford the fines. I am a bit confused about the argument here.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My argument does not necessarily only deal with fining; I am talking about regulation as opposed to fining, and we have had a debate on that. The point on fining is that we are worried that we will end up seeing a chilling effect and people coming forward vexatiously. That is a real concern—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for North West Durham groans, but he should stand up and say why he groans—give a speech or make an intervention supporting the Bill. He has said very little.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (Eighth sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Thursday 16th September 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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I really am going to conclude now, as we must move on. Colleges have a vital role in the protection of freedom of speech, which is a fundamental value for all of society, but especially in our world-leading higher education providers, as I am sure hon. Members agree.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am terribly sorry. I did try to reconsider my language. It was a very rude thing to do. “Bloody” should be used only in the sense of the blood that runs through our veins, and nothing else.

It is very rude to invite someone and then disinvite them, and I do not condone anyone who does that, but we have to have equity. We either have to have all societies able to invite and disinvite people, and to be as rude as they want, or we have to say that it is not acceptable in an academic space because it creates a chilling effect, and then we have to say that no society can do that. We cannot have a two-tier system whereby we say, “If you happen to have affiliated to a student union or institution, you get it, but if you set up shop outside and everyone thinks that you’re that society, it is acceptable.” There lies the real danger, but there are options here.

Finally, I want to touch on the role of such unions as the Oxford Union, the Cambridge Union and the Durham Union. They have been real bastions of free speech, and I do not suspect that they would have any problems with the duties covering them, too. We all know that often they have been the ones that have continued to say, “We want all different people to come, debate and talk.” But we cannot create a law based on the long-standing position of the Oxford, Cambridge and Durham unions—to name the most famous but not necessarily best student debating societies in the country—because they have had an historical foundation, whereas almost every other debating union and society in our country is regulated because it forms an affiliated part of an institution. I do not think it is fair that a few ancient universities get different privileges from the newer universities. That is a dangerous division.

We need to ask whether a debating club made up exclusively of students is regulated or not. The Minister needs to make a decision. I hope that she will say that she has accepted the point. She may not agree with the detailed wording, but I hope she says that she will go away and make sure that the provision applies to either all student societies or none, and either all student spaces or none. That should also cover the commercial sector—bodies with whom an institution may have commercial relationships.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

Any transgression of freedom of speech and academic freedom goes against the fundamental principles of the higher education sector in England. It is therefore essential that our universities are places where freedom of speech can thrive for all staff, students and visiting speakers, so they can contribute to a culture of open and robust intellectual debate. Student unions provide support and services to their members and their universities. It is therefore appropriate and essential that the legislative framework is extended to cover student unions directly.

The extension of the duties imposed only on higher education providers will ensure that freedom of speech is protected to the fullest extent. This will ensure our universities can continue their long and proud history of being a place where views may be freely expressed and debated. Clause 2 will provide the legislative framework to extend these important duties to student unions at approved fee cap providers—a category of registered higher education providers. It will insert two new provisions into the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. Proposed new section A4 provides that student unions will be required to take reasonably practicable steps to secure lawful freedom of speech for their members and staff; for students, members and the staff of the provider; and for visiting speakers.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (Sixth sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Wednesday 15th September 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Sorry; I commit to taking away the topic of field of expertise, which is covered in amendment 28, as well as amendment 80.

I will outline the reason why the topic is in the Bill in the first place. Academic staff will have extra protection under the Bill, in addition to the more general protection for freedom of speech. That is the reason that the additional protection only covers speech where an individual has expertise. For example, a maths professor should not have greater protection than a non-academic colleague or a student when they are speaking about matters unrelated to their role as an academic, but in that case the professor would still benefit from the same freedom of speech protections.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand exactly what the Minister is trying to say, although there is some advanced maths that could move into philosophy and so on, depending on how deep we want to go. It is about the word “expertise”. That is why I put forward the idea of academic “interest”, which is a much lower bar and means that someone just needs to demonstrate that they have had an academic interest or research in that area. Would she go away and think about the bar that the word “expertise” sets—who proves that expertise?—compared with other qualifications that might fulfil the Minister’s purpose, but give people the right to explain a broad range of academic interests?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for that helpful point. I commit to taking away that very topic.

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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Two points are being made. One is about the right to a platform, whereby an individual can, in essence, demand to speak at a university. In no way does the Bill give anyone the right to a platform.

The second point that the hon. Member is referring to is if an individual is invited by a society, a union or a university itself. With regard to that, freedom of speech is not an absolute right; it does not include the right to harass others, or incite people to violence or terrorism. The Bill requires reasonably practicable steps to be taken to secure freedom of speech within the law. That is the crucial point. The Bill is not about unlawful speech.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

But the Bill does require student unions to allow students to set up societies regardless of their viewpoints; such societies must be able to be registered and cannot be denied. There could be a group of three students—three deluded, holocaust-denying students—and the student union would not be able to deny them an affiliation, according to the Bill, and they would be given a right to speak in the student union. I am just trying to be clear, especially because of the tort element. That is the particular problem here, because that is not in regard to the Office for Students; it is separate to the courts. If there is not a protection here in the Bill, can the Minister give assurances that no group of three students can take a student union to court for tort, for being denied a room to preach genocide denial?

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (Fifth sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Wednesday 15th September 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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I refute the point that everything in the evidence was disregarded. The Government reserve the right to stick by their opinion, which is that this Bill will protect academic freedom and freedom of speech. Academic freedom is a subset of freedom of speech.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

If I could continue, the Government recognise that a provider will be best placed to consider, on a case-by-case basis, how to fulfil its duties under the Bill while also meeting its other duties, including those under the Equality Act 2010 and the Prevent duty. The provision in the Bill requires reasonably practical steps alongside the particular regard duty, which allows for the balancing exercise to be properly done.

Once the Bill has completed its passage through both Houses, I expect that the new director for freedom of speech and academic freedom will issue comprehensive guidance to the sector on the expectations of the Office for Students. I am confident that providers will be well equipped to strike an appropriate balance when exercising their various duties. I trust that the Committee members are reassured that this amendment is not necessary.

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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Amendment 29 seeks to expand the notion of who is a member of a higher education provider to include affiliated academics and other individuals holding academic positions. Amendments 55 and 56 seek to extend academic freedom to members and visiting academic speakers.

Clause 1 will insert part A1 into the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. Part A1 (1) and (2) require registered higher education providers to take “reasonably practicable” steps to secure lawful freedom of speech for their

“staff…members…students…and…visiting speakers.”

Turning to amendment 29, we have used the term “staff” to broaden the existing reference to “employees” in the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, because not all of those who work at a provider have an employment contract or employee status. To be clear, expanding the protections to these individuals is a key aspect of the Bill and ensures that all academic staff have access to redress. It is important to note that the term “staff” is already used in the current definition of academic freedom in the Higher Education and Research Act, so it is an understood term in this context. Similarly, “members” is a commonly used term in the sector, as well as in legislation. It is included in the existing provision in the Education (No. 2) Act, which is carried over into the Bill to ensure that individuals who are currently covered do not lose that protection. Members of a university include members of the governing council, for example.

I now turn to the proposed extension of academic freedom to members and visiting academic speakers in amendments 55 and 56. As already defined in the Higher Education and Research Act and strengthened in clause 1, academic freedom is necessary for academic staff who may be at risk of losing privileges and jobs or with reduced likelihood of securing a new academic role because of their views. Visiting academic speakers will therefore have academic freedom in relation to their own universities. A visiting speaker who speaks controversially at another university will have the benefit of the provision at their own university, but they do not need it at the university they are visiting, as they do not have a job or promotion prospects at that university that they are at risk of losing.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Very often, an academic seeking promotion has to demonstrate that they have published work and have spoken at an event external to the institution that they work in. If they are unable to prove that they have spoken at a number of events, they are unable to secure promotion. Therefore, the protection that the Minister talks about is a protection in the institution, but if academics are not protected in external institutions they will not even be able to apply for promotion. Does she understand that there does need to be an extension, and would she consider how that could be done?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

Importantly, they will be covered by the overarching protections in relation to freedom of speech when they speak at other institutions. As for members, they are specifically covered under proposed new part A1(2). Strasbourg case law has confirmed that, in determining whether speech has an academic element, it is necessary to establish whether the speaker can be considered an academic. To the extent that a member of a university could also come within the category of academic staff will be a question of fact. Quite simply, if they are covered they will have academic freedom as defined in the Bill. I hope that reassures members of the Committee that these amendments are not needed, as the members and types of academics mentioned can already be assured that they will be protected under the Bill.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (Third sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Monday 13th September 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Q I will ask just one more question, because I know that a number of Members want to come in. Do you agree that it is important to create an atmosphere on our campuses whereby difficult issues can be openly discussed, to create the critical thinkers of tomorrow?

Sunder Katwala: Completely, yes. It is the question of whether there are any boundaries where you would be allowing reprehensible content that undermined academic freedom, liberal democracy or the role of the university, if you did not get those difficult cases right.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
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Q Thank you very much for your evidence. I should declare my interests, as I have done in previous sessions—Sussex University, the University of Bradford and the University and College Union.

Is there a problem that expanding this to student unions might have detrimental effects? Student unions traditionally allow students to self-organise ginger groups, different political groups and so forth. If you require the Conservative club to enforce academic freedom, does not that make a mockery of having a club of Conservatives in which they can talk and debate issues among themselves?

Sunder Katwala: In principle, I do not see why it should do so—unless you have organisation of it wrong. As I see it, the principle is that the Bill should protect the difficult conversations that different people want to have. In theory, it should be blocking people saying, “I don’t like you saying that about Winston Churchill or the British empire—that’s too tough,” as well as stopping other things. But the devil is in the detail.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (Third sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Monday 13th September 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Q I will ask just one more question, because I know that a number of Members want to come in. Do you agree that it is important to create an atmosphere on our campuses whereby difficult issues can be openly discussed, to create the critical thinkers of tomorrow?

Sunder Katwala: Completely, yes. It is the question of whether there are any boundaries where you would be allowing reprehensible content that undermined academic freedom, liberal democracy or the role of the university, if you did not get those difficult cases right.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you very much for your evidence. I should declare my interests, as I have done in previous sessions—Sussex University, the University of Bradford and the University and College Union.

Is there a problem that expanding this to student unions might have detrimental effects? Student unions traditionally allow students to self-organise ginger groups, different political groups and so forth. If you require the Conservative club to enforce academic freedom, does not that make a mockery of having a club of Conservatives in which they can talk and debate issues among themselves?

Sunder Katwala: In principle, I do not see why it should do so—unless you have organisation of it wrong. As I see it, the principle is that the Bill should protect the difficult conversations that different people want to have. In theory, it should be blocking people saying, “I don’t like you saying that about Winston Churchill or the British empire—that’s too tough,” as well as stopping other things. But the devil is in the detail.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (Fourth sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Monday 13th September 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Q I have just one more question. What more do you think universities could do to promote free speech?

Professor Grant: What we did at King’s was work with our student union in developing a joint statement modelled on the Chicago principles and signed by both the president of the student union and the president of King’s College London. On the back of that, we developed a committee that reviewed all so-called high-risk events. That committee was made up of equal numbers of university staff, academics and professional staff, and students. It made recommendations to the senior vice-principal for operations and, potentially, to the principal. In my mind, creating a sort of co-production and co-creation process around managing those events was deeply beneficial because, as the previous witness said, both sides started having conversations about the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable. Both groups then owned the process and the mitigations thereafter.

Professor Layzell: I think Universities UK would support what Professor Grant said. Many universities will have similar sorts of processes. I think one other step that could be taken—this comes under the promotion of free speech duty in the Bill—is to help students to better understand the role of university education. It is quite different from school and college. I think the concern that some students have about expressing a view is not necessarily about freedom of speech; it is about having the confidence to speak out and express an opinion.

I think we could do more to help students to understand how the university education process works and the role of freedom of speech and freedom of expression within that, in order to encourage them to have the confidence to express views that might be contrary to those of others in the room and to feel comfortable with that, and to help them understand that that is a normal part of how we do our business; that that is the lifeblood of academic research and teaching. I think we could do more in that respect.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
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Q Jonathan Grant, I am interested in this chilling effect. Did you do any baseline studies on what the chilling effect was in other areas? I ask that because I have done some cursory searching. It is difficult to find, but Facebook has done some internal research and says that 71% of its users, even online, will censor what they say in order to meet the desires of friends and colleagues. Therefore, if that figure of 71% is about accurate—we do not know, because this could be a ballpark figure—a quarter of students is much lower than wider society, so is that an example of how universities are actually much better?

Professor Grant: That is an excellent question, and the short answer is no. When we did the survey, we went out to the general public and asked them a range of questions on their attitudes to free speech, and they were broadly the same as students, but we did not ask them that question about self-censorship, so I think it is an entirely legitimate question.

If I may, I just want to pick up on the previous comment, because I visited the University of Chicago a number of years ago, which had set up a programme to teach high school students about free speech, how to debate effectively and take contrarian views, and about the resilience needed to hear something challenging. I absolutely agree with Paul that in universities we could do more to help our students understand what debate is about, how at times it might be painful and the resilience needed to engage in some of that debate.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (First sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Tuesday 7th September 2021

(10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Q Do you share that view, Trevor?

Trevor Phillips: Yes. I do not really see what in the text of the Bill would produce that result. I think you would have to construct a very outlandish scenario for that to happen.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
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Q Trevor, you mentioned the porter. That would not be covered under the Bill. Do you think the Bill therefore needs to be expanded?

Trevor Phillips: Forgive me—you say I mentioned the what?

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (Second sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Tuesday 7th September 2021

(10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
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Q And academics in economics departments?

Thomas Simpson: Right. So my view is that there is a really obvious coalition here of those who are concerned with the long-term health of the sector, to make it a place where tolerance of different viewpoints exists. I think that is very helpful.

There was the final point, on the role of the employment tribunal. One of the important issues here is that this is a multi-strand approach, so I do not think it is necessarily “not this, but that”. However, I think there is a very serious question, which lawyers would be better placed to comment on than me, about whether employment tribunals should be a first port of call in cases of dismissal, for instance.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Q What do you think is the main threat to academic freedom as things currently stand?

Thomas Simpson: The main threat is the chilling effect.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (First sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Tuesday 7th September 2021

(10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Q Do you share that view, Trevor?

Trevor Phillips: Yes. I do not really see what in the text of the Bill would produce that result. I think you would have to construct a very outlandish scenario for that to happen.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Trevor, you mentioned the porter. That would not be covered under the Bill. Do you think the Bill therefore needs to be expanded?

Trevor Phillips: Forgive me—you say I mentioned the what?

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (Second sitting)

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Tuesday 7th September 2021

(10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
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Q And academics in economics departments?

Thomas Simpson: Right. So my view is that there is a really obvious coalition here of those who are concerned with the long-term health of the sector, to make it a place where tolerance of different viewpoints exists. I think that is very helpful.

There was the final point, on the role of the employment tribunal. One of the important issues here is that this is a multi-strand approach, so I do not think it is necessarily “not this, but that”. However, I think there is a very serious question, which lawyers would be better placed to comment on than me, about whether employment tribunals should be a first port of call in cases of dismissal, for instance.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Q What do you think is the main threat to academic freedom as things currently stand?

Thomas Simpson: The main threat is the chilling effect.

University Students: Compensation for Lost Teaching and Rent

Debate between Michelle Donelan and Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Thursday 15th April 2021

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
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There is increasing concern from students who have not been able to take many of the part-time jobs that they would otherwise have been able to. They are not eligible for much of the Government support and they are having to continue to pay rent. Some universities have been good, of course, but the private sector has not been. Is it not now time for the Government to have serious plans to address this hardship, as we have seen in Wales, and not just the pittance that has been given, on a discretionary basis, to students, many of whom are not able to access it properly?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

It is important to remember that we have unlocked £256 million of taxpayers’ money for universities to access to support those in hardship, and we have allocated an additional £85 million. It is right that we have targeted that to those who are most in need, rather than allocating it as a blanket payment, which would have diluted the support available to those who genuinely need it at the moment. Once again, I reiterate my message to any student who is facing hardship: please come forward to your university and access that help. That includes international students and postgraduate students.